The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

December 6, 2018

Digging dahlia tubers late

Last week I talked about my potatoes that I dug up very late in the season. What I didn’t mention was that same day I also dug my dahlia tubers that were still in the ground. Turns out they where in fine shape shape as well.

It makes perfect sense that the tubers would look so nice.  The ideal storage temperature for dahlias is around forty degrees Fahrenheit and that’s about what the soil temperature was. I checked the soil temperature in my garden again this morning and found that even now, during the first week of December, it’s running about 40F.

What kind of surprised me was how warm the soil is even with the colder than normal November we experienced. Looking back on the several weeks,  a pretty good set of circumstances lined up for my dahlias. First, the tops were froze back by the frost back i October. Then I left them in the ground for well over a month. That allowed the tubers to develop healthy “eyes”, just like the eyes on a potato. With strong eyes, my tubers should make good, strong growth next spring — that is if I take good care of them over winter.

Tubers before separating.

Tubers before separating.

There’s a few simple tricks to keeping dahlias over winter. The first is to store them at the proper temperature and we already know what that is — just don’t let them freeze.

The second crucial factor is humidity. If left out in the air during storage, the tubers will dry out due to the low humidity we typically have in our homes in the winter heating season. So the solution is to store them in air tight containers. For a small amount of tubers, maybe under a hundred or so, I find keeping them in zip-loc bags is a good way to go. I usually separate the clumps of tubers into singles, then place one or two in each bag. To maintain good humidity I add moist sawdust to the bag. If you have more that one tuber per bag, the sawdust also keeps the tubers from touching each other. While you’re at it, add a tag so you know what variety it is.

This is a typical dahlia tuber but they come in wide variety of other shapes and sizes.

This is a typical dahlia tuber but they come in wide variety of other shapes and sizes.

Even though I had success in the past using peat moss, potting mix or garden soil, I’ve found that sawdust works best for me. I’ve heard of people using shredded newspaper but have never tried it. However, with so many people opting to get their news online, printed newspaper is getting harder and harder to find these days . You can easily solve that dilemma by subscribing to Detroit News home-delivery, but I digress.

The third and final secrete is to check on them once in a while. Open them up and make sure the packing material is still moist. Also, toss any rotting tubers you might find. It’s pretty disappointing to open them up in the spring only to find out your tubers were ruined due to neglect over winter.

Those plants you bought from the garden center and planted in your garden, most likely grew a set of usable tubers. Since soil temperatures are still hovering around 40 degrees F, it may be fun to check in your garden to see if your dahlia tubers are still good. Dahlia farms are asking $3.00 and up for each tuber (not including shipping) so it may be worth your while to poke around in the garden. Let us know in the comment section what you find.

Bob

 

 

February 1, 2018

A local interpretation of Groundhog Day

Growing up in a rural area of southern Michigan, I had a chance to absorb a lot of our local farm culture. Back them there were plenty of old-timers who, in their younger days,  had farmed their acreage with teams of horses. Those gray-haired farmers had plenty of advice and time-worn proverbs to pass along. One that stands out for me is the meaning of Groundhog Day.

I don’t know the history of  Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney but the town has so successfully managed to turn Groundhog Day into its own event that many people don’t even know, or care, that this minor holiday has been around way before weatherman Phil Connors got caught in that time-loop in Pennsylvania. The first time I ever heard of the town of Punxsutawney was on an episode of  The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I’m not sure in what context it was, I just thought it was funny to hear a cartoon character say “Punxsuatawney Pennsylvania”.

Most of the farmers in our area had some sort of livestock, often it was dairy cows. They would grow corn and hay as feed for their animals rather than purchase it off site from somewhere else. That meant storing feed on the farm; dried corn, still on the cobs, in corn-cribs and hay up in the second story hay mows above the livestock area on the ground floor. Farmers could easily judge by eye how much their livestock were eating.

Feeding livestock through the winter could be a challenge if the previous growing season’s harvest was below normal. Groundhog Day was, according to those farmers I knew, the half-way point of winter. By that they meant, if you still had half of your feed or more left in storage by Groundhog Day, you will make it through to spring. If not, then potentially you would run short of feed.

In our rural elementary school, Groundhogs Day was a fairly big deal. Our teachers never mentioned the practical side of the day but we did learn about the whole six weeks before spring thing. My classmates would come in to school on the morning of February second and excitedly report if they thought there was enough sunlight for a groundhog to cast a shadow.

I still use this day as reminder when I look in my deep-freezer and estimate how much frozen garden produce I have left from last year’s harvest.

Bob

 

March 28, 2014

Seed savers legacy

Filed under: Seed Starting,Storage and Preservation — bob @ 1:32 pm

Many long time gardeners have tried to save seeds only to let them go after a year or two. There’s been a few times in years past when, for one reason or another, I’ve let varieties slip through my fingers.

The best luck I’ve had is keeping my own variety of tomato seeds for years, as I’ve written about in past blog posts. But that pales in comparison to an Ann Arbor, Michigan area gardener who died recently. He left behind a collection of seeds that he had been saving for decades. Over 60 varieties of heritage annuals, biennials and vegetable seeds are in this treasure trove.

All of that valuable plant genetics could have been lost in a single year if not for a group of like-minded gardeners. Several of his friends got together and came up with a plan to save the work of that dedicated seed saver.

Each person took a few varieties and agreed to grow them. Then, at the end of the season, they would harvest the seeds and share them with the rest of the group. That way no one particular gardener had to take on the responsibility of growing all 60 varieties.

Many of those plant varieties were around before the gardener was born. The seeds passed into his hands for awhile, he nurtured and propagated  them. Now they are passing into new hands.

What a terrific gift to pass on to a new generation.

Bob

December 21, 2012

Taking Care of Sauerkraut Crock

Filed under: Storage and Preservation — bob @ 2:20 pm

Sometimes it feels like I’m still gardening even though the growing season is over.

For example, I’ve been tending my batch of sauerkraut for nearly a month now. Every couple of days I check it to make sure everything’s going OK. The anaerobic bacteria that ferment the cabbage can’t tolerate air so, I need to make sure all of the cabbage is covered completely with cabbage juice.

Mold likes to grow on the surfaces of the crock — or food-safe plastic pail — and the plates I use to cover the kraut. Mold has to be cleaned off as it appears. It’s sort of like removing weeds from a garden as they start to grow. The mold is not only unappetizing, but it can spoil the kraut too.

Now that it has fermented for a while, I harvest a smaller layer of kraut every time I check it. If a minuscule amount of mold or aerobic bacteria try to get started there,  it gets removed. Of course, I throw out any that is spoiled.

It took 12 heads of cabbage from my garden to make five gallons of sauerkraut.

So, I’m tending a garden that has billions and billions of probiotic bacteria and they need to be well cared for.

I made my first batch of sauerkraut way back in 1978. It was so successful that I’ve continued to make it ever since. It’s something I look forward to every fall.

I eat my sauerkraut raw, straight from the crock. It has a satisfying crunch and a tangy flavor that is different with each batch. Now, if I cooked it, I’d kill all of those probiotic bacteria I’ve been nurturing.

By the way in my Polish family, everyone calls it kapusta, not sauerkraut.

Bob

October 5, 2012

For Storage, Leave Stems On Winter Squash

Filed under: Storage and Preservation,Vegetables — bob @ 12:07 pm

We had a pretty decent Butternut squash yield this year. I planted them in a new part of the garden, which I’m sure helped boost the yield. Plus, we had very few insects on the squash. As a result, we now have plenty of Butternut that will go into storage straight from the garden – unprocessed.

If you keep winter squash under the proper conditions, you can enjoy them well into winter. The most important thing to keep in mind is to leave the stem on the squash. This is true of all varieties of winter squash and pumpkins.

Winter squash store best with the stems left on.

If you plan to use them in the next week or two, then it really doesn’t matter if the squash has a stem or not.

Sometimes you can find farmers selling stemless winter squash at a deep discount. Other than cooking them for a meal, you can freeze or can those bargain farmer’s market squash to use later on.

If the stems are breaking off  your squash as you pick them, use your pruning shear to cut the stems from the vine. You’ll find it’s worth the extra effort.

Store your best, unblemished squash  in a spot that will stay around 50F and have about 50 percent humidity. You should be able to enjoy your home-grown squash into early 2013.

Bob

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